Wednesday, March 8, 2017

The Confessions of Young Nero - A Novel by Margaret George.

The Confessions of Young Nero: A Novel.  Margaret George. Penguin Publishing Group. March 2017. 528 pp. ISBN #: 9780451473387.

Nero is a well-known, infamous character to most readers the mad ruler of Rome!  Margaret George, the renowned historical novelist, has Nero tell the story of his younger years in a way that changes the reader’s perception about how Nero’s personality developed.  The picture isn’t pretty but is certainly amazing at how he managed to survive the traumatic events of his youth!

Nero’s mother, Agrippina, is a manipulative, intriguing woman who thinks nothing of having her enemies (real or imagined) poisoned or assassinated.  As a young boy, Caligula, the earlier emperor, tries to drown Nero by throwing him in a river but he is saved by a Roman soldier.  Nero is adopted by Claudius thanks again to the influence of Agrippina but is aware that his life is in a precarious position as Claudius’s natural son could also become the next emperor. 

Nero has two memorable tutors, one who introduces him to the glorious art and music of Greece and the other, Seneca, who introduces Nero to the philosophers and great moral teachers in Roman history, as well as the great Roman gods, goddesses, and leaders who will hopefully shape Nero into a moral, intelligent and capable leader.  Nero actually does become a leader who manifests the best of both teachers although it is his infamy that becomes prominent in the historical records of Roman history.

Due to a drug-induced dream (or reality?), Nero dreams of his mother, a haunting scene that leads Nero to forever wonder about his mother’s intentions and whether he possesses her evil nature.  At the same time, Nero is married to a woman he ignores and falls in love with a former slave, now a freed woman.  After Claudius dies, a stunning event as well, Nero becomes Emperor and becomes an intelligent ruler who makes decisions clearly beneficial for his empire.  But Agrippina is now fearful of her son as he trumps her malicious planning, a constant threat which will eventually lead to her own demise.

The Confessions of Young Nero is superb historical fiction.  There are notes in the afterword of this novel that lead the reader to expect a sequel, one which this reviewer avidly awaits!  Read this novel, a wonderful, astute, and fascinating account of an enigmatic, troubled, and haunted ruler shaped by the best and worst Roman influences!

Police At The Station And They Don't Look Friendly (Detective Sean Duffy Series #6) by Adrian McKinty

Police at the Station And They Don’t Look Friendly (Sean Duffy Series #6).  Adrian McKinty. Prometheus Books. March 2017. 319 pp. ISBN #: 9781633882591.

Belfast 1988 – Ireland is a volatile place where IRA, Irish and British conflict constantly erupts. The novel opens with Duffy being into a hidden area where he will be forced to dig his own grave and then die. The scene shifts, however, to a murder scene. Two murders, both committed by crossbows, have been committed and Duffy is called to investigate the second death of a known drug dealer.  Obviously, this is an odd choice of weapons but effective because of the difficulty of tracing the owner or owners.  All he knows is the victim’s wife is a violent mourner, giving grief to anyone and everyone. Add to the mess that it’s hard for Duffy to get cooperation in the Carrickfergus station.  However, he has a job to do and he sets about it with determination, even when it seems he is being blocked at every turn.

Duffy is also in danger of losing his girlfriend Beth and daughter Emma, as Beth hates being in the middle of a violent neighborhood.  There’s a subplot here as she tries to get him to think about moving to a house in the country.  At first he refuses but realizes he will lose her if he doesn’t come around.  Trying to explain to Beth that he is attempting to prove himself at the station, being distrusted as a fenian “peeler” or detective (Irish independence supporter and detective), and is slowly gaining ground in that effort.  Beth doesn’t see that as the essence of a steady, peaceful existence for a family, even though she won’t hear of marriage as a viable option.

The story continues and holds the reader’s avid interest as Duffy and an associate are kidnapped, almost murdered and endures other life-threatening moments and obstacles.  Adam McKinty crafts an excellent crime or detective novel that is challenging, mysterious, and altogether a wild ride with some poignant times in between the task of finding the guilty and bypassing the innocent.  Nicely plotted Adam McKinty!

Sunday, March 5, 2017

Windy City Blues: A Novel by Renee Rosen

Windy City Blues: A Novel by Renee Rosen; Penguin Publishing Group. Copyright 2017. pb, 480 pp. ISBN: 9781101991121.  

Leeba Groski, daughter of immigrant Polish Jews, becomes a filer and receptionist for a new record company in Chicago, Illinois, in the post-WWII years.  She’s working for Leonard and Evelyn, mismatched partners who are spotlighting new talent in music specifically catering to colored (word used appropriately for that time) folks.  

The business collapses and a fluke accident enables Leonard and his brother to open a new music production company (the Chess brothers).  Leeba or Leah as she renames herself very slowly evolves into a fine writer for blues musicians.  Red Dupree (Jimmy Rogers in real life), a young black man, has come to Chicago to make his mark as an electric guitarist initially and then to write and have his music produced.   Acknowledged as a superb guitarist, he fails to get a contract for his own compositions.  However, after tremendous struggles, he gets hired as a band member for the notable “Muddy Waters,” and their music takes off.  Leah, Leonard and Phil make new friends and business contacts whom they will sign on as future “blues” stars.  

However, the equally dominant story behind the music concerns the virulent storm created by the fiery love, romance and marriage of Red Dupree and Leah.  They become part of the Freedom Riders movement and ultimately the Civil Rights Movement created by Dr. Martin Luther King.  

The majority of this fine novel contains a constant tension lowered at just the right moments with the magic of creating and playing music, as well as the passionate love and troubles of Red and Leah. 

Out of the suffering of racial prejudice arises a vibrant “sound” that changed the course of American history! Finely crafted historical fiction, Renee Rosen!